Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TOP STORY >> Officials work on reducing flooding

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville officials are hoping to avoid a repetition of last week’s devastating floods.

Damage has not been assessed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency yet, Mayor Gary Fletcher said. Fletcher called Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) on Thursday and asked him to visit the city to help in any way he could. Griffin was shown the Eastview area Friday afternoon and expressed his dismay at the damage. He said he has contacted the Army Corps of Engineers.

The city is authorized to take care of issues caused by drainage inadequacies but has to wait for FEMA to address flooding caused by other factors. The city also needs help, in the form of grants, to deal with drainage problems.

“We don’t have the resources or ability to fix drainage,” Fletcher said. “It’s not going to be an easy fix.”

Griffin said, “My heart goes out to those affected by the flooding. It was helpful to view the flooded areas with Mayor Fletcher and meet the folks who are personally dealing with this difficult situation. I am talking with the Army Corps of Engineers and looking at potential solutions that may help avoid this in the future.”

Director of Administration Jim Durham said officials are waiting for FEMA to approve and provide public assistance, which will reimburse the costs incurred while worked during the disaster, doing tasks such as helping clean up Hwy. 67/167. Those costs were paid from the city’s unbudgeted funds, Durham said.

Right now, residents are asked to report damage to city hall. They are encouraged to apply for individual assistance from FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362). Fletcher said residents could also help by removing debris from drainage ditches instead of waiting for the city to come do it.

“We don’t have the manpower to be everywhere at all times,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us to make this a better situation.”

When it rains, water in the city drains into Bayou Meto, which carves a 104-mile, curvy path to the Arkansas River. When it rains excessively, Jacksonville receives backflow because water can’t go to the river fast enough and gets backed up.

The debris in ditches causes blockages that further exacerbate or cause flooding.

Officials are also setting up meetings with the Army Corps of Engineers in Memphis to discuss how to prevent future flooding.

Durham said one of the ways the mayor is helping make flooding less disastrous in the city is approving subdivisions that are elevated above the flood plain. He’s requiring that streets also be elevated, which had not been required by mayors in the past.

Durham said some of the peripheral actions the city has learned to take after this disaster is to concentrate on deterring vehicles, especially 18-wheelers, from going around barricades indicating road closures. He said at least two $500 tickets were issued and that one way to deter this would be to station police officers at the barricades.

The city was pummeled by six more inches of rain than it received in December 2009, surpassing the 100-year floodplain and forcing officials to drag out the 500-year floodplain. Fletcher said the flooding was a regional, rather than a local, problem.

Fletcher said the flood was caused by too much water, although the expansion of the landfill and the railroad acting as a dam in some locations could have been “contributing factors.” The flow line of the river is also higher than the city, which geographically sits in a bowl.

Durham said most of the homes that did flood were required to have flood insurance. Backflow is the main way that the city floods.

City Engineer Jay Whisker said there were flash floods in Stonewall and on Piñon Lane, while other areas, such as Eastview apartments, received backflow flooding.

He said holes could be put under the railroad tracks to provide additional space for water to go and that three or four additional ditches could help relieve flash flooding.

Whisker said about 20,000 cars were rerouted from Hwy. 67/167, Hwy. 161 South, West Main Street and other areas during the flood.

He said the city had received a $130,000 grant it had requested after the 2009 flood. The grant from Central Arkansas Planning and Development District was for improvement to the drainage at the Piñon Lane area, and that project should be completed late this summer.

He added that there is a 1 percent chance of the city receiving enough rain to reach the 100-year floodplain, which occurred in 2009, and there is a 0.002 percent chance for the city to receive enough rain to reach the 500-year-flood plain, which came last week.

Officials on the first day of the heavy rainfall were knocking on doors to let residents know about the pending disaster and providing at-risk homes with sandbags. About 200 sandbags were distributed, Fletcher said.

“We’re as prepared as we could be for disasters,” Fletcher said.

One measure taken after the 2009 flood was the construction of an emergency road for the Tara Mount subdivision. In the 2009 flood, residents were stranded.

A truck was parked in front of the small dirt road built to prevent Tara Mount residents from getting cut off from Main Street. Police woke up the owners of the vehicle, who lived nearby, at 3 or 3:30 in the morning on the first day of rainfall to remove the vehicle.

Two residents, Dana and Fran Browning, sent Fletcher and his staff a thank-you card, which reads, “We are really thankful to be able to get out to Jacksonville Cut-Off and to Walmart.”